VAR stands for “Video Assistant Referee”, a refereeing system that uses video review to help match officials enforce the FIFA Laws of the Game.
Here’s a look at how it all works and how it’s become ubiquitous in the world’s biggest sport.
The history of VAR in world football
VAR was enshrined in the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2018, but its use had been limited for several years before that.
An early version of VAR was tested in the Eredivisie during the 2012–13 season, leading the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) to ask the IFAB to allow further testing. The IFAB approved the petition, and in July 2016 a friendly between Dutch clubs PSV and FC Eindhoven became the first game in the world to use VAR in its current form.
Things snowballed from there, as various other competitions jumped on board to test the new system. In 2017, Australia’s A-League became the first domestic league to fully implement VAR in its competition, with Major League Soccer adopting the system for the second half of its season the same year.
International tournaments quickly followed suit and on March 3, 2018, the IFAB officially codified VAR into the Laws of the Game.
When is VAR used?
So when exactly does VAR get involved in a game? There are four specific cases described by IFAB VAR Protocol:
- offense by the attacking team in the preparation or the achievement of the goal (handball, foul, offside, etc.)
- ball out of bounds before goal
- goal/no goal decisions
- infringement committed by the goalkeeper and/or kicker while taking a penalty kick or encroachment by an attacker or defender who is directly involved in play if the penalty kick rebounds off the goal post, crossbar or goalkeeper
Penalty kick/no penalty kick
- offense by the attacking team in preparation for the penalty incident (handball, foul, offside, etc.)
- ball out of play before the incident
- place of the offense (inside or outside the penalty area)
- Wrongly awarded penalty kick
- unsanctioned penalty kick
Direct red card (not second yellow card)
- denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity, aka DOGSO (especially attacking position and positions of other players)
- serious criminal act (or reckless defiance)
- violent behavior, biting or spitting at another person
- use offensive, insulting or abusive actions
False identity (red or yellow card)
“If the referee penalizes an infringement and then gives a yellow or red card to the wrong player of the offending (sanctioned) team, the identity of the offender can be examined; the infringement itself can only be examined if it concerns a goal, incidental penalty or direct red card.”
Who determines when a VAR intervention takes place?
A common mistake is confusing the terms “VAR” and “video review” – they are two separate terms that have become intertwined.
As stated in the IFAB VAR Protocol, a “Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a match official, with independent access to match footage, who can only assist the referee in the event of a “clear error and obvious” or “serious missed incident”. in relation to” the four categories of decisions described above.
“The VAR watches the match in the video operation room (VOR) assisted by a VAR assistant (AVAR) and a replay operator.”
As VAR and AVAR have access to broadcast footage, they are only empowered to communicate with match officials and “can only speak to the referee at the push of a button (to prevent the referee from being distracted by conversations in the VOR).”
VAR will review footage and replays during the action of the game and, if deemed necessary, ask the referee to view replays on a pitchside monitor.
Who decides if a field review is necessary?
As noted, VAR and AVAR are watching live broadcast footage of the match, as well as replays. They communicate to the referee if an on-field review is deemed necessary, but the use of the pitchside monitor is entirely at the discretion of the referee.
Who makes the final decision after a video review?
According to the IFAB VAR protocol: “The referee is the only person who can take the final decision; the VAR has the same status as the other match officials and can only assist the referee.”
“When the review process is complete, the referee must show the ‘TV signal’ and communicate the final decision. The referee will then take/modify/cancel any disciplinary action (if any) and resume play in accordance with the Laws of the Game. .”
Can players or coaches request the use of VAR?
Players, coaches or team officials cannot request the use of VAR to review game actions. Only match officials (including VAR and AVAR) can decide when video review can to be used.
How often can VAR be used in a game?
There are no usage limits for VAR or on-field review. Referees may use it whenever they deem it appropriate and necessary.
Which leagues use VAR?
In May 2022, there were nearly 60 leagues and several dozen domestic cup competitions that use VAR. These include the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1, FA Cup, Coppa Italia, Copa del Rey, DFB-Pokal, Major League Soccer, Brasileirão, Argentine Primera División and many more.
All major continental club competitions use VAR, including the UEFA Champions League and Women’s Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores and more.
Additionally, all major national team competitions have adopted VAR, including the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro, Copa America, Africa Cup of Nations, men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments, etc